I glanced at the computer printout that rested on the passenger seat of the rental car, a casual picture of a grandmother and granddaughter, arms linked, faces aglow with laughter and love. The bright photograph had been scanned into a computer half a world away and the resulting crisp picture that had issued from my daughter's computer was one of the small miracles that no one remarks in today's technological wonderland. The grandmother, Gina Wilson, was one of my oldest friends, a shining memory from the happiest years of my life. The granddaughter, Iris Chavez, was a child I'd come to know because she spent much of her growing up time with Gina. Iris was near in age to my own granddaughter, Diana.
The faces in the photograph were sharply different, despite their laughter on the day the picture was snapped on a sunny summer afternoon at Laguna. It wasn't simply a matter of age. Gina's short-cropped white hair and Dresden china pale skin and Iris's richly raven curls and creamily dusky complexion made a lovely contrast. Gina's sharply planed features were arresting, her light green eyes curious and skeptical, her smile amused yet with a sardonic undercurrent, as befitted a woman who'd been one of the cleverest political reporters of her time. Iris's face was cherubic, still so young there were no lines. Her eyes were also green, but there was no challenge in Iris's gaze. Instead eagerness vied with uncertainty. Iris's bow of a mouth was marked with brilliantly red lipstick, but the vivid color couldn't hide vulnerability.
The two sets of green eyes were the only real resemblance in the photograph. What had Gina once told me? She'd looked out the window at Iris playing in the yard and smilingly observed, "Iris is the image of her father, except for her eyes."
Iris. The name brought to my mind the vision of a slim blonde with startlingly blue eyes. But not this Iris. Not Iris Chavez, whom I remembered as a giggling little girl with a mop of curly black hair and later as a plump, eager-to-please teenager. A sweet, bouncy, cheerful girl. I'd not seen his or Gina in several years. Yet when the phone rang yesterday at my daughter's home in east Texas, I'd immediately recognized Gina's voice and just, as swiftly known there was trouble. Or, to be precise, realized immediately that Gina was terribly afraid.
I hoped that soon, very soon, I could call Gina and say everything was okay. I slowed for a red light, checked my map. Although San Antonio streets often change names, I was finding my way without difficulty. Gina's directions had been clear and careful. Almost there.
Gina hated to ask for help, but there is nothing you won't do, no mile you won't walk, no mountain you won't climb, no effort you won't make for a grandchild. I understand that. I have two grandchildren of my own.
I didn't blame Gina for being frightened. Even though Gina was half a world away, Gina in Majorca, Iris in San Antonio, they kept in close touch by E-mail. At least once or twice a week, they exchanged messages. It was their custom to chat on Saturday morning Iris's time, Saturday afternoon Gina's time in Majorca.
"Nothing, Henrie 0, nothing since last Wednesday. And Iris never misses E-mailing on Saturday mornings without telling me in advance that she will skip. I've sent message after message. I've called and called. There's no answer. I thought of contacting the police. But what could I tell them? That I haven't received an E-mail? That I can't get her on the phone? That's not enough to report her as missing." She paused. "And maybe she's just out of town with a friend. Oh, there could be many reasons. I don't want to embarrass her. But I...
Author: Carolyn Hart
An accomplished master of mystery, Carolyn Hart is the author of twenty previous Death on Demand novels. Her books have won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards. She is also the creator of the Henrie O series, featuring a retired reporter, and the Bailey Ruth series, starring an impetuous, redheaded ghost. One of the founders of Sisters in Crime, Hart lives in Oklahoma City.